Birth Story: One mama, Five unique stories

Nashville Doula Service’s very own, Jessica Caldwell, shares the birth stories of her six children which includes the birth of her twins, her multiple VBACs, and home births.

Before we get into her story, listen to these wise words from Jessica as she answers the question: What does it mean to you to birth on purpose?

 “To me, to birth on purpose means to set an intention for delivery. What is most important to you? What message do you want echoed back to you from your care provider? From your support team? For me it was peace. Safety. Knowing my team trusted the process of birth and what my body could do. I made a plan, prepared for plan B and plan C, and then let go once labor began. As mothers all we can do is trust the process of motherhood, coming through us and in us. I wanted to know that in the darkest moments of my labour and delivery, that the people I had chosen to be there could speak words of life to me, guide me and counsel me through to the other side, with my intentions in mind. That kind of support is what creates empowered mothers, regardless of what the labor may bring.” – Jessica

The Births of my Six Children
by: Jessica Caldwell

We found out we were expecting twins on our one year wedding anniversary. I was 20 weeks along, and ended up in the ER on a Sunday, due to crampy contractions. After some IV fluids, a routine ultrasound gave us a very unexpected surprise, two healthy babies. I had been raised around birth all my life. I attended my 5 sibling’s births, and the home births of some of my mother’s friends, and those experiences had impacted me profoundly. But as a first time mother I was nervous, and I allowed myself to buy into the high-risk label my obstetrician put on me. I felt that I had hired the best OB in the area and that he would know what was best for my babies and I. I told my OB that I wanted to try for a vaginal birth, and he assured me that if I made it to 35 weeks and both babies were head down, we could discuss it. I ended up going into preterm labor at 27 weeks, and went on full time bed rest until our boys were born, just shy of 35 weeks. We had been in the hospital all night, like so many times before, trying to get the contractions to stop. My OB came in the room around 4 in the morning, sat by the bed and said “Well, we’re gonna have babies today!” I was shocked and excited. He told that the babies clearly wanted to be born, and they weren’t going to stop my labor any more. I reminded him about wanting a vaginal birth and I remember this part so clearly. He reached up and put his hand on my leg and said “I would really hate for you to have to recover both ways. Chances are once baby A is born, baby B will flip around, and we would then have to do a cesarean to deliver him. I really don’t want you to have to heal from both a vaginal birth and a cesarean. Besides, labor will be hard on the babies and I don’t want to stress them any more than needed. So let’s just do the cesarean.” I was fully trusting of his decision, but was by no means informed about what lay ahead of me. I was 4 cm dilated when they wheeled me back to the operating room.

Our boys were born two minutes apart, first Avery (4lb 8oz) and then Ezra (5lbs 10oz). I remember laying there with my arms velcroed to the table, and feeling like I might not be breathing because I couldn’t feel the rise and fall of my chest. Everyone was staring over the blue curtain and I was certain that if I died or went unconscious, no one would know. The only way I knew I had become a mother was because I heard my husband say, “Oh hey buddy! I’m your dad!” as each baby was born. And I remember watching my husband, so much emotion and expression on his face, trying to imagine what he was seeing. He was so happy, and I felt so scared and distant from it all. I remember hearing their sweet cries and that brought me relief, and then they were whisked off to the NICU, and by husband with them.

They moved me to my recovery room once the surgery was over, and then time just sort of stopped. I wanted so badly to see by babies. I asked one of the nurses when I would get to see them, and she told me very firmly that my babies were “very very sick” and needed to in with the special care nursery, and that the best thing I could do for them was recover. I had not been told anything about my babies being sick, so this rattled me. Another nurse came in and assured me that my babies were indeed healthy and fine, but just needed monitoring and help maintaining their body temps. I didn’t get to hold them until they were 2 days old. I pumped a lot of colostrum for them. My mom had a good firm talk with the nurses and demanded they let me nurse the boys. That was day 4, and I’m grateful that my mom helped me see that sometimes mamas need to speak up and fight for their babies.  I too had been a 34-week preemie, so my mom had lots of helpful advice about breastfeeding. She really was my cheerleader through that and I’m grateful. We spent a good long week in the hospital and then we all went home. I recovered rather quickly from my cesarean, and felt lucky about that since I had two babies to care for. It wasn’t until a couple weeks after, once everyone left town and I was alone to care for my babies that I started to feel like something wasn’t right. I struggled a lot with my feelings. I didn’t know why I felt how I did because I had never been a mom before, so I had nothing to compare it to, but I just felt like maybe, just maybe, these babies could be someone else’s and I wouldn’t know it. Like I was playing a part. It took a long time before I could admit that to anyone, because I really was happy, but I was overwhelmed and isolated. Breastfeeding became our way of bonding, we worked hard together, the three of us, and it empowered me a great deal. I was determined to nurse my twins and overcome all the obstacles we faced. It was hard earned but I was able to nurse them for a full year, until I was 4 months pregnant with our third son.

I found out we were pregnant for the second time when the twins were 9 months old. I knew I wanted a different experience the second time around, but I didn’t know where to find it or how to achieve it. I found a local ICAN group and nearly burst into tears sitting in a room of strangers who shared my feelings about their own cesarean births. For the first time I didn’t feel alone, or weird for how difficult of a time I had had after my twins were born, and I had hope that I could heal and make peace with those feelings. After reading a lot of books, and doing all the research that I should have done during my first pregnancy, I found a group of midwives at a local hospital, and planned to have a VBAC. I went post dates, and worried my body was a lemon, and bounced on my birth ball, and said my birth affirmations, and really tried to believe what my midwives told me which was that I was made to do this and my baby knew when he was ready to be born. Trevor, our VBAC baby, was born sunny side up, after a 24 hour all natural labor and 2 hours of intense pushing. There were so many moments during his birth that I felt tired, and like I might give up, but I felt so supported, and safe. No one made me feel like I was in danger, or that my baby was in danger. I was able to move around, and rest when I needed to. Kyle, my husband, was always close by and the room felt so still and intimate. There were a few moments I remember wanting my midwife to DO something. But she sat there quietly knitting in the corner and her casual attitude made me know that all I was going through was normal, and nothing to be worried about. The moment of Trevor’s birth was so climactic. I feel in a way that in those hours of pushing, I was pushing out all three of my boys, because when I reached down and grabbed my baby and lifted him to my chest, I felt in that exact moment that I had become a mother. And I was carrying Avery and Ezra in my heart at that moment, feeling closer to them and more connected to them than ever before. I didn’t know why I felt that way, but I did. I was never the same after that, and I knew that it wasn’t about some badge of honor for having achieved a natural birth. I was just so grateful to finally feel what every mother should feel for her children, that unexplainable riveting devotion, that biologically stamps us as mothers.

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In the year following Trevor’s birth, I became certified as a labor doula, and when we moved back to Tennessee, I started a local ICAN chapter, which I co-lead for 4 years. It felt so good to give back and help other mothers who had walked a similar road as I had. I went on to have 3 more babies, Eden in 2010, Quentin in 2012, and Rowan in 2013, all of them born peacefully in our home under the watchful supervision of our precious midwife. My homebirths were all so different, and each challenged me and taught me something new (much like the children themselves!).  During my daughter Eden’s labor I made blueberry cobbler and watched the movie Julie and Julia while bouncing on my birthing ball. She was born so quickly and easily, it’s like she just decided she was ready and out she came. A nature she is true to, to this day.  With Quen I had the most joyful labor, laughing with my husband and midwives. I made it to 10 cm with no pain at all. I pushed for a good two hours with him because his shoulders were stuck and I was grateful to have the skill of my midwives who helped me move around and work with him to help him be born. With our last baby, Rowan, I walked around 4 cm dilated for 3 weeks, and went 3 days past my due date. My labor finally began and it went so quickly that my midwife barely arrived on time. I remember feeling so alive and aware during her birth, like I had with all of my home birthed babies. I could feel them with me through the entire process and we were working as a team. I think this is because my midwives supported me in a way that allowed me to listen to my motherly intuition. I was able to maintain a real connection with my babies, and that was important. Nothing compares to those moments after birth where you are seeing your baby for the first time, holding him to your chest and just breathing them in. What a sweet reward for all that work. It is true what they say that once you have a baby at home, you never want to do it any other way. It is so reverent and special.
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I am grateful for each one of my children and what their births have taught me.  I am grateful for my cesarean, and my long, difficult labors too because I know that they taught me things I needed to know, and I have grown in ways I might not have otherwise. And our experiences as mothers do matter because we are teachers, and we are givers. Our stories impact other people’s stories, and what we believe about ourselves becomes our truth.

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